It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I realized my parents weren’t going to be around forever. Oh, I’d been aware of that fact intellectually, of course. But emotionally? Practically? I don’t think I’d given it a great deal of thought on those levels. But around ten years ago it seemed doctor’s appointments were becoming more of a regular activity for them both and it slowly dawned on me that there was going to be a day, not long off, when I would be presented with decisions and responsibilities unique to the only child, not the least of which was what to do with their large, furniture filled home.
Daddy went first, five years ago. Afterwards, it was clear Mother had no intention of changing anything, or moving anywhere, so when we buried her on New Year’s Eve of last year, the house was as full as ever. After the funeral, I locked the door with the intention of letting those decisions wait for a good long while. It had been a difficult year and I thought the luxury of procrastination was one I both needed and deserved. But each time I visited to check on the house, it seemed to look sadder than the time before and I soon realized this was not something I could put off for too long. Knowing we were heading on holiday to the UK in May, I wanted to get this emotional chore behind me before we left as I didn’t want it looming up on the horizon as the plane touched down on my return. The estate sale experts I enlisted told me to just to take the things I wanted and leave the rest to them so the week before leaving town, I tackled the task of gathering together the items that meant the most to me from our family’s house.
My parents built this house, we are the only ones to ever live here. My Mother hated change, of any kind, and when they decided to leave our home in the city and build this one further out, she was anxious about it. So my Father took to sharing his excitement over the building process with me. Each afternoon I’d wait till he got home from work and together we’d drive the seven or so miles to the site of the new house to check on the progress made that day. Every nook and cranny was inspected and I could sense Daddy’s pride and joy in watching his new home take shape. He’d never been much of a gardener before, but soon after we moved in, he became obsessed. He found he had a knack for garden design and would frequently disappear into the woods behind out house, only to return a few hours later carrying a large poplar or sweet gum seeding over his shoulder. He’d find the perfect place and proceed to plant these baby trees. They are towering specimens now. I would take them with me if I could.
I didn’t go trick or treating in this neighbourhood. By the time I moved here, I no longer believed in the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. This was not the house of my childhood. No, this was the house of my teenage years. Dates picked me up at this front door. I left for my wedding from here. The memories are sweet ones and they came flooding back as I walked from room to room trying to decide which items to take and which to leave behind. Opening one cabinet in the sitting room, I found all the cranberry scented candles my Mother used at Christmas and suddenly I could clearly see her baking fruit cookies on Christmas Eve. I found my baby clothes. A lock of my own hair. Inside a box of old photographs was an envelope with the words, “Keep Always” written across the front in my Mother’s hand. Inside were the love letters my Father wrote to her before I was born. He’d made them rhyme. They are treasures richer than veins of diamonds to me.
In the end I kept the lamp I was always warned not to knock over every time I ran through the house. I kept the fine china. I’ll set my Thanksgiving table with it from now on and see their faces sitting there. I kept the mantle clock that chimed every fifteen minutes of my childhood. It rings outs from my library now. In a favourite photograph of my Father and me we are visiting my great aunt at her home in the country and Daddy is sitting in her goose neck rocking chair, with one arm around me, smiling. The photograph has sat in my bedroom for years. And now the chair does as well; a continuance, a comfort.
In performing this task I only recently realized would one day be mine, I discovered it is impossible to predict which items from lives gone will be imbued with memory for those who are left behind. My Mother’s rolling pin. My Father’s hats. Two tiny bells that hung on the Christmas tree. These are more valuable than paintings or silver. These are the precious and the prized. These are the talismans held close as I handed the key over and walked away.